Drink the Wild Air

I’m sitting in Starbucks. Why Starbucks when there are tons of great coffee places in Buenos Aires? For one simple reason: They have air conditioning.

It’s 95 degrees, which means I have about 30 seconds from the time I step outside till I start perspiring. Which after three days, I still dislike but I’m getting used to. Air conditioning is a luxury here and neither the hostel we stayed in the first two nights nor the apartment we are now renting have it. It’s not that I’m opposed to sweating – I thoroughly enjoy an intense workout and “earning” my shower when I’m finished. It’s just that I don’t expect to continue sweating after I get out. I used to tell people that as a Southern Belle, “I don’t sweat, I glow.” But let me just be real, I’m way past glowing and glistening here.

But for now, in this Starbucks, I’m cool. I’m facing the window which means I’m completely distracted by the people walking by. Like this guy. That’s a lot of hair.

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And then there’s this girl, whose shorts remind me of a pair of stonewashed jeans I wore in 2nd grade.

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The fashion here is, well, different.

IMG_4323Chunky sandals are all the rage for women.

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This is a trend I’ll never embrace. Not just because I don’t find them particularly attractive and elevating myself an extra 4-5 inches will make me feel more like an Amazon than I already do, but also because I’m pretty confident I would bust my ass if I tried to walk in shoes like that. Just saying.

Hold on. There’s a lady trying to talk to me.

Ok, I’m back.

Apparently this woman was warning Natalie and I to be careful about having our Apple computers in a public place because just yesterday when she left Starbucks at night with hers, a motorcyclist must have seen her put them in her car, because he smashed her window and stole it.

Only she told us the entire story in rapid-fire Spanish and was so intense and passionate that I wasn’t able to interject anything until the end when she looked at me for a response. “Yo hablo un poco de espanol,” I offer apologetically.

“You speak English?!” she exclaims before she starts to laugh. Meanwhile her teenage daughter behind her is cracking up. “Did you understand any of that??”

“Well, a little,” I respond. “I knew it had something to do with two Apple computers, your wallet, the night, Starbucks and a car…but I wasn’t entirely sure how it all went together.”

We all had a good laugh, but now just to be safe, I’ve placed my computer sleeve in front of my Apple logo and I am keeping my purse securely positioned on my body.

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I’m probably fine, but what’s that expression? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? I’m going with that.

I came here with the intention of writing. Of crafting some sort of inspiring blog post to share, but in this moment I’m just taking it all in. I like this city. I like its’ energy, all the trees that pepper the streets, the corner cafes, and the clean, soapy smell that most people exude. I’m wondering if Buenos Aires has a standard-issue body wash. And if so, how do I get some?

I like the variety of people, a merging of all different cultures, ages and economic backgrounds. I like that wearing my casual sundress, I blend in pretty well on the street – even if I’m not rocking platform sandals. It’s my first time in South America, my first week in this city, but it feels like a place I could one day call home. I don’t know how long we’ll be here, or if I’ll ever be back, but for now, I’m not concerned with that.

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I just want to grasp every moment. To embrace the novelty of it all. To find God here– in all of His creation.

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Buenos Aires literally means “Good airs.” I didn’t know that until about a month before we got here. When I was praying about why God had prompted us to go to this city – of all cities. When God reminded me that this trip was about learning how to really live. And what do you absolutely need to live? What can’t you go more than minutes without? Air.

So, here I am in a city with “good air.” A place where I’m feeling God calling me to slow down. To let go. To be present in each moment. And to simply breathe.

Yesterday, Natalie and I went to the National Cathedral for Ash Wednesday Mass.

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It’s a day of fasting to mark not only the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter, but it’s also a day to remember an important truth. From dust we were created, and to dust we will return.

We were reminded of that firsthand two days ago when we went to visit the world-renowned cemetery in Recoleta.

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Perhaps the first thing to understand about life in order to really live it fully, is to recognize how truly brief it is.

“You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears.” James 4:14.

And that is the truth. I am not guaranteed next year any more than I am guaranteed tomorrow. So, right now, I’m going to unapologetically allow myself to simply be. I’m relinquishing the pressure I feel to craft a perfectly worded post with a riveting, earth shattering message that will “wow” you. Instead I’m going to sit here and gaze out of this window, watching the passers by, the leaves dancing gracefully in the breeze and the pigeons perching peacefully in front of me.

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And I’m going to breath. I’m going to draw deep, full breaths of all of this “good air” and be thankful for this gift called life that God has given me.

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“That’s not a lot of clothes for six months…” I say as I look at the apparel laid out on my bed. And it’s true. When this journey started, I had a hard enough time pairing my clothes down to three suitcases, and one (giant) duffel bag full of shoes! Now, I’m trying to fit everything I need for the next six months into one backpack. Yikes.

The Great Enlivening began in October and continued as we headed to Baja California, Mexico for three months.  Now, four months in to the journey, it’s time for the next phase. And after much prayer and consideration, we still don’t know exactly what this season will look like.

Sure, we could take out our travel bucket-lists of all the places we’ve ever wanted to go, and plan our journey that way. But this is a journey by faith. Which means that we’re letting God lead us to where we’re supposed to go.

“How on earth are we supposed to pack for this?” I ask Rachel, who’s packing her bag in the next room.

She walks in to my room and says “Well, I guess we just have to be ready for anything!”

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As it turns out, this is no easy task. Every item needs to have multiple purposes. I need to sleep, workout and go-out in as many combinations of these clothes as possible. Oh yeah, and it all needs to be wrinkle free… which pretty much means that Rayon/Spandex blends are my new love.

So here’s what made the list:

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The clothes:

  • Tank tops (x5)
  • Short Sleeve Tops (x2)
  • Long Sleeve Shirt (x1)
  • Dresses (x3)
  • Sports Bras (x2)
  • Convertible all-in one bra (x1)
  • Undies (x7)
  • Bathing Suit (x1)
  • Long Black Pants (x2)
  • Capri Black Pants (x1)
  • Black Shorts (x1)
  • Black Skirt (x1)
  • Jeans (x1)
  • Chambray Top (x1)
  • Rain Jacket (x1)
  • Khaki Jacket (x1)
  • Scarf (x1)
  • Cardigan Sweater (x2)
  • Baseball Cap
  • Beanie
  • Gloves
  • Scarf
  • Shoes:
    • Gray Flats
    • Running Shoes
    • Flip Flops (aka – hostel shower shoes, ick!)
    • Sandals

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The “Practical & Pragmatic” Items:

  • Safety Whistle (because you can’t bring mace on a plane)
  • Tiny Flashlight
  • Eye Mask / Ear Plugs
  • Sleep Sack (bed-bug proof!)
  • Spork (yes, a spork)
  • Drain Stopper (I fear I’ll be doing a lot of laundry in the sink)
  • Laundry Soap Sheets (for all of my sink laundry…)
  • Door Stopper (for those lovely hostels without locks on the doors!)
  • Electronic Adapter Kit
  • iPhone Camera Lenses
  • Laptop & Charger (we are writing a blog after all…)
  • iPhone & Charger
  • Toiletries (so I’m clean)
  • Deck of cards (so I can win friends and influence people)

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And finally, the “Don’t Judge Me” items:

  • Hair Straightener (just because I’m living like a vagabond, doesn’t mean I have to look like one!)
  • Kate Spade Purse (see hair straightener comment)
  • Yoga Mat (I’m addicted now, I need this)
  • Neck Pillow (I’m pillow-particular. Like I said, don’t judge me.)
  • Selfie Stick (for all my selfies…)

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Amazingly, all of this fits in one 45-liter backpack and a 15-liter daypack. When it’s all said and done it weighs about 28 pounds. It’s not light, but hey, it could be worse!

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As our time in Mexico started drawing to an end, Rachel felt convicted to pray about where we should go next. And she was quickly led to research information about Argentina. Soon after that, the two of us were diligently typing away on our laptops, researching everything from Antarctic Penguins to Zika Virus.

“Man, Argentina is far-away!” I lament, as I looked at the twenty-four hour flight times. “And it’s really expensive to get there…” since every one-way ticket I can find costs somewhere between $1,100 and $1,200.

“Wait a minute!” Rachel exclaims, “What day did we want to leave?”

“February 6th” I say.

“Well I don’t know why this one is so cheap, but I think we should book it!” She says as she points to her computer screen. I look over and see that it lists a price of $599 for a flight from San Diego, California to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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“Definitely! Let’s book it.” I start typing and I pull up the same website. I enter the search terms exactly as Rachel has them listed and I get… nothing. So I try it again, maybe I entered something incorrectly. But after typing in my parameters a second time, I’m left staring at a screen that reads “$1,100, $1,199, $1,205, etc.”

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After a few more tries, I clear my cookies and somehow keep getting the same results!  I look at Rachel and ask “what the heck is happening here?”  She laughs and says, “I have no idea!”

I think back to how Rachel was prompted to pray for our trip and how God told her to research Argentina, and it all starts to make sense.  I’m not saying that God is behind the technical workings of Kayak.com, but… he kind of is.  And by listening to his prompting, Rachel was able to book two tickets for us, at the price of one!

A few minutes later we’re busy planning our time in Argentina. We are a couple of type-A’s after all. But the more we plan, the more our plans just don’t work out. In fact, we even booked a couple of flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina that were cancelled by the airline as quickly as they were booked.

I start to feel a little frustrated and wonder if we really are supposed to go to Argentina, or if somehow we got our signals crossed. When I get a subtle reminder during our Morning Prayer time – “Stop trying to put this in a box.”

This is a reminder that God gives me fairly often. It means, “stop trying to look at this in a way that makes sense based on your experience and perspective.”  You see… I’m a problem solver. If I know the end-goal, my mind will start meticulously working through every scenario that could help me achieve it. But with God, we don’t always get to know the end goal. And if He tells me to go to Argentina without a plan, then I’m supposed to go, no questions asked.

This is SO much easier said than done. I’ve built my life inside carefully crafted boundaries that keep me safe and secure – financially, emotionally and physically. Boundaries are great that way; they’re designed to keep us safe. But sometimes, we become so comfortable living inside our risk-adjusted boxes, that we never leave them.

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That’s where I found myself a few years ago, stuck inside the box of my life. And though it was calm and cozy, something was missing. My heart was craving adventure, inspiration and novelty. And those things just can’t be found by staying inside the lines.

So in an effort to continue growing and becoming the person I wish to become, I decided to fully embrace the ambiguity of the next several months of my life – starting with Argentina.  On Saturday, Rachel and I leave for Buenos Aires with nothing more than a backpack, a one-way ticket and a three-day hostel reservation.  And though it doesn’t exactly feel cozy and comfortable, everything about it feels right.

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PS – Mad props to the ‘House of Pain’ for my title… it’s a classic.

“I’m sorry, how many cavities did you say I have?” I ask.

Surely I’ve misheard her.

“Eight,” she responds with certainty and at the same time a tone of apology. It’s obvious that this Mexican dentist doesn’t want to tell me this any more than I want to hear it.

“How is that possible?” I ask incredulously. “I’ve gone to the dentist every six months my entire life and I’ve never had a single cavity.”

“Well, at lot of times in the U.S., dentists wait until you need a root canal or crown to deal with things like this because the payout is better,” she explains. “But I want you to see for yourself, so I’m going to take some X-rays and photos.”

“OK,” I respond, silently praying that somehow she has this all wrong. After all, I was just coming in for a simple cleaning.

But minutes later she shows me the x-rays and the photos she’s taken with my iphone. There are in fact several, tiny, brown and black spots on my back molars – which I’d noticed before but assumed were just stains.

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“Luckily they haven’t gone past your enamel yet,” she says. “But if left untreated, over time they will go deeper until they cause you pain and require much more extensive treatment.”

I can’t argue with the evidence so instead I stare at her, processing a multitude of thoughts and emotions until they spill over… into tears. That’s right, I’m a newly-turned 34 year old crying in the dentist’s chair about some cavities.

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Why? Well, besides the fact that I just canceled my dental insurance last month and I’m afraid this might cost me a small fortune, there’s this other “little” factor called my ego rearing its ugly head. You see, I’m the girl with the “flawless smile,” the “perfect teeth,” – at least that’s what I’ve been told my entire life from dentists, friends and even perfect strangers.

For years, I’ve proudly worn my “no cavity” status like a badge of honor. But now, it’s been snatched away. And replaced with a “scarlet C.”

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And not just a “C,” a “C” with a BIG 8 in front of it!

Besides being embarrassed about my situation and response to it, I’m also angry that my American dentists never breathed a word to me about this and now, with no dental insurance, I’m having to deal with all of this in a foreign country.

“I know this is difficult to hear,” the dentist tells me handing me a tissue. “You don’t have to make a decision today, but it’s my job to tell you this so you can take care of these issues before they become more serious.”

I ponder her words and my bank account before I take a deep breath and respond.

“Can you fix all of them today?” I ask.

She nods.

“Then let’s do it.”

There’s no point in delaying the treatment. After all, why would I want to let problem areas fester when I can take care of them now?

Being a cavity virgin, I have no idea what is going to happen, which explains my shock when the dentist (without any prior warning), tightly squeezes both sides of one of my cheeks with her fingers, takes a gigantic syringe and sticks the needle into my flesh.

The prick isn’t bad, but I feel a slight burning sensation as whatever is in the syringe fills my cheek.

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This happens three more times until she has effectively numbed every corner of my mouth.

I feel my cheeks growing heavy and fat, until I’m sure I look like a chipmunk.

“Isth thaa novocaine?” I try to ask, realizing that my tongue is no longer functioning properly. As a kid I had a terrible reaction to too much nitrous oxide which resulted in me throwing up all over some poor dental tech’s hair – a big, permed 90’s “do” if I remember correctly.

“Yes, you aren’t allergic to it, are you?”

I shake my head no but inwardly I think, “Well, it would be too late now if I was!”

After a 10 minute cleaning (apparently despite my 8 cavities, I don’t have a bit of tartar on any of my teeth), she begins the drilling. See video below.

The sound isn’t pleasant and I don’t realize I’m tensing every muscle in my body until after she’s given me a brief reprieve. “Breath. Relax.” I tell myself. Though I never understood why before, I’m beginning to appreciate why some 75% of adults apparently fear going to the dentist.

I think of Natalie, who had her cleaning before my appointment and is out in the waiting room. I send her a text: “Go head and get something to eat. Long story – it’s going to be a while.”

“Why?? Is everything ok?” comes the response.

I want to tell her the truth – that I’m currently dealing with 8 cavities, 4 shots of novocaine, an emotional breakdown and most likely a few more hours of what I would describe as a form of mild torture. But considering the dentist speaks English and can read what I write, I simply respond:

“Yep. I’ll let you know when I’m almost done.”

This drilling continues again and again. Intermittently she tells me “open a bit wider,” and I attempt to, though I swear my jaw is going to break if it hinges open any further.

For two hours she meticulously removes every last speck of decay from my teeth and then refills them until finally, she announces: “NOW, you have perfect teeth.”

She takes a few more photos to show me and I have to admit that she did an amazing job.

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This makes me smile, but when I do, I realize the whole bottom half of my face is numb. I hope I’m not grimacing. Or drooling.

“Tho, when can I eath?” I ask. It’s 3 p.m. and after a morning run and yoga, I’m starved.

“Not until you have feeling back in your mouth. You might bite your cheeks or choke if you do now.”

As if on cue my stomach rumbles in protest. I nod my head sadly and pay the $280. This day certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, but while I can’t say the experience was enjoyable, I know it was necessary.

The truth is that sometimes there are “cavities” in my life that are easy to overlook. Areas that, while seemingly innocuous or surface level, can turn into much more serious issues over time. If not dealt with properly, these little “problem areas” will go deep, attacking the very core of who I am and requiring a much more extensive removal process – one that will undoubtedly strike a nerve and cause a great deal of pain.

Like this dentist, God wants to bring them to my attention. Not to shame me or cause discomfort, but because he want to remove the “decay” from my life. He wants to ensure my health and help me strive toward Spiritual perfection – the only kind that really matters.

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When I walk out into the waiting room, I can see the concern on Natalie’s face.

“Thith hath been the moth ridiculoth denthisth appointhmenth ever,” I explain.

I see the corners of her lips curl as she struggles to keep a serious expression.

“Oh, iths funny alrigth,” I respond as we both crack up. “I sounth like a completh idioth.”

I tell her about everything (as best I can) on the drive home and we have good laugh.

I know even after all this work my teeth aren’t “perfect” and they never will be. And that’s OK. That even with all of my brushing and flossing, I will likely have other “issues” to deal with in the future.

But this experience reminded me that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about if I do have a few more “cavities” that need to be dug out. The process may not be enjoyable, but every time I face and work on my own shortcomings, I’m making progress – which is the most important thing.

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And who knows, in the end, it might even be something I can laugh about.

 

 

“Ok, was it just me, or were those guys actually cute?” Rachel asked as we stepped outside.

“I know! They were good looking, and seemed really nice.” I said with surprise.

When we arrived in Mexico, Rachel and I made a discovery – there aren’t many attractive men here. And while I’m sure there are plenty of eligible bachelors in this country, they definitely don’t live in Baja. In fact, the majority of the population here seems to be well over the age of 60. At least in the circles that we’re running in.

Sometimes we’ve mistakenly thought that someone was cute, when it turns out they were only under the age of 50, and/or really friendly. We call this, “Wearing Mexican Goggles.” So because of this goggle-phenomenon, whenever one of us sees someone who might be attractive, we need to confirm it with the other.   And today, the two men we just met seem to fit the bill!

They’re in their early thirties, business owners and artists. Their English is better than our Spanish, which means it’s decent enough to hold a real conversation; and they were really polite and kind. So, they invited us to go out on a double date, and after we verified with Rachel’s running partner, Blanca, that they were in fact good guys, we said yes.

While this may not seem like a big deal to most, I don’t have much “dating” experience. I met my ex-husband when I was 18, married him at 22, and we divorced when I was 30. Since then, I’ve had two real forays into the dating world – the first ending with his broken heart, and the second, with mine.

So last summer, after my post-divorce dating bust, I prayed and asked God what I should do about relationships with men. His answer was clear – avoid them. Not forever, but for a season.

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Since Rachel was recently divorced as well, we both committed to spending the last half of 2015 single and unavailable for dating. So that’s exactly what we did.

I was in awe of the peace that this decision brought to my life. I used this season to examine my heart, and I began to see it as something alive and beautiful. I started to think of it as a flowing, fenced-in meadow. When I was in a good place emotionally and spiritually, the meadow was really fruitful. It fed me. And the fence kept the bad things out and the good things in.

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But throughout the past few years, I experienced significant heartache. And that pain started to wreak havoc on the meadow. It poisoned the lush ground that was once fruitful, and it bulldozed parts of the fence. And as that happened, I started to let the wrong things into my meadow.

It was clearly time for some repair work.

I thought that the best way to do this was to start from scratch. First, I re-examined and redefined my values, prioritizing honesty and integrity at the top. Then I started to align my actions. I became determined to lead a life where my beliefs and my behaviors are congruent. And this meant kicking everything out of my heart that didn’t belong there – the habits that weren’t making me the greatest version of myself, the people who didn’t have my best interest at heart, and all of the negative emotions that I carried around for years.

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It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

And when 2016 rolled around, part of me felt excited by the prospect of dating, while another part felt completely terrified. The last thing I wanted was for anything to damage the meadow I spent so much time repairing.

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But that’s where the fences come in.

Fences are my boundaries. Fences… not walls. My heart isn’t a fortress that needs to be defended; it’s a meadow that needs to be respected. Fences let people walk up to the border of my heart and gaze inside, and they let the light in my heart shine out for everyone to see. But they also have gates that only allow certain people to enter. And whomever I decide to date doesn’t get to waltz right in to my meadow and set up camp.

So when these guys asked Rachel and I out, I knew it was going to be a different experience. Not only because we were going dancing in downtown Tijuana, but also because I was in a new place emotionally. My heart is whole and complete, and my boundaries are strong and well defined.

Later that day the guys came to pick us up for our date. We went out to dinner in Rosarito and then, we tried desperately to go dancing in Tijuana. But it was Wednesday… so our options were pretty limited. We ended up at an empty club where the four of us danced like fools to a mix of Justin Beiber and Mexican Salsa. Then we followed that up with some good ole karaoke and a game of pool. The guys were sweet, fun and total gentlemen. I was surprised at how taken aback I was when he opened my car door, pulled out my chair at the restaurant and let me take his arm when I crossed the street.

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While I may not have much dating experience, I think that this is the kind I need. It showed me that I don’t have to “date” in the way that the world defines “dating.” I don’t have to treat it like a job interview for a potential spouse or a litmus test for sexual chemistry. Dating can be about getting to know someone for who they are in their heart. And I’m so thankful that God allowed my first dating experience in 2016 to be with someone who felt the same way.

“El Nino” is a Punk

We’re on our way home when the text comes in. “Be REALLY careful driving.” It’s from our neighbor, Claudio, aka “Dad.”

He was nice enough to watch the dogs while Natalie and I went up to the San Diego airport to drop off my friend Sherri who came to visit. But since this is the second time he’s cautioned us today, I can tell he’s pretty worried.

“Why is everyone so freaked out by the rain?” I ask Natalie, bewildered as we make our way back toward the border.

“Oh, it’s just Californians” she explains matter-of-factly. “They’re not used to driving in it.”

Growing up in Alabama and Louisiana, rain was often part of everyday life. But here in SoCal and Baja California, it’s an anomaly and apparently something that causes a lot of concern and traffic accidents.

“But it’s just rain,” I say.

“It’s like how Southerners react to snow,” she counters.

Immediately I have a flash back of my first time driving in the snow in Virginia. When I misjudged the time it would take to slow down and make a turn and how I wasn’t able to. How my car skidded right up over the curb and directly onto the main road – which by the grace of God somehow had no on-coming traffic at that moment.

“Well, I guess that makes sense,” I acknowledge.

But inwardly I still think the reaction to rain (people not leaving their houses and being afraid to drive anywhere) is a bit over the top. I mean, it’s just a little water people.

We cross over into Mexico and then traffic comes to a stop. We’ve come to expect exceedingly long wait times heading into the U.S., but coming into Mexico is usually smooth sailing. Until today.

We inch along for about 30 minutes chalking it up to nothing more than some wicked rush-hour traffic until I see it: a section of the road that is completely covered in water and the wake of cars that are haphazardly trying to pass through it.

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It’s hard to tell how deep the water is but it’s completely covering the wheels of most of the cars, which makes me thankful we’re in an SUV.

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After safely crossing this “shallow river” we continue on the main road where I began to really appreciate Claudio’s concern for our safety. Turns out “El Nino” is no joke. And also that Mexican infrastructure is not made for substantial rain.

Muddy water pooled along the edges of the lanes makes hydroplaning a serious threat and newly deposited boulders strewn across the road have me concerned about landslides.

Just when we make it back to our house safely we get the news. We expected that the skylight in our entryway would be leaking (which has happened before and why we keep a spare bucket nearby).

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But in addition, all the excessive rain that has saturated the ground has seeped through a crack in the concrete walls completely flooding my bathroom and the utility closet.

When we talk to friends and neighbors later we hear similar reports; flooded houses and people stranded because of impassable, muddy roads. Even the beach where Natalie and I run is a mess. Massive waves took out some of the wooden umbrellas and tables and trash is strewn all along the sand.

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Needless to say, I now understand the impact a “little rain” can have here. And I also think “El Nino” deserves a spanking for all the havoc he’s wreacked.

But more than anything I’ve come to a greater respect and appreciation for water.

On one hand we are surrounded by it – the Pacific ocean is literally right off our back patio. And on the other hand, we have to plan ahead to ensure we have what we need to live. You see, the water is not drinkable in Mexico. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you think about needing enough water for two adults and two dogs every day.

Before we left Virginia I purchased a top-of-the-line water filter that can basically take scummy pond water and make it potable.

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It’s worked well, but it only filters about a gallon an hour. So, at least 6 times a day, I’m refilling the container, filling up our pitcher in the fridge and also allocating some water for the dogs.

If I fall behind in doing so, we run out. Which isn’t the end of the world, because we can always go to a “tienda” to buy some, but it does keep water at the forefront of my mind throughout my day.

In Mexico, I never leave the house without a water bottle. And when I go to the U.S. I always feel so grateful to have fresh, free water available at fountains in nearly every store – something I didn’t really appreciate before.

Two months into our time here, I’m pretty comfortable with the water situation. It’s been a long time since I’ve accidentally swallowed a big gulp after brushing my teeth (which always makes me feel sick – though whether it’s a physical or psychosomatic response, I’m not sure). Refilling the water filter is habitual these days and most of the time we have more than enough.

But beyond that, I’ve fallen in love…with the ocean.

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It’s something I admire each day on my porch or through my dinning room windows. I love to gaze at the beauty of sunlight dancing on the waves like diamonds. I breathe in the ocean air, walk along it’s rocky beaches and run along it’s sandy ones. The sound of the crashing waves has become a part of my life, the rhythm as natural as breathing to me, the sound calming my spirit and lulling me to sleep each night.

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Since November, I’ve enjoyed the presence of the ocean. But last week, in honor of a new year and my friend Sherri’s birthday, I opted for a more tangible experience –completely immersing myself in it.

For the last decade, nearly every January, I’ve had people invite me to do the “Polar Plunge” in Virginia Beach. And every year I’ve politely declined. Maybe because I’m a chicken, but also because running into freezing cold water in the middle of winter sounds miserable.

But this January I took the plunge on my own volition. See the video below.

Yes, it was a physical plunge (which wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be and was actually quite refreshing). But more importantly, and on a much deeper level, I believe it was symbolic of a spiritual plunge. A willingness to go into deeper waters. To embrace a little discomfort. To explore more of who God is and the world He’s created. And to experience what I might otherwise just admire from afar.

On this “Great Enlivening,” I sense God calling me beyond the comfort and security of the shore. He’s asked me to get out of the boat and leave behind my life raft. To be completely dependent on Him. Which, in all honestly, is a bit scary.

I’ve seen the power of the waves crashing and the fierceness with which they can cause destruction. I’ve questioned whether or not I have the skills to swim in the midst of the inevitable storms I’ll face.

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Yet, God continues to tell me to trust Him. That it’s not about my ability but my obedience. That if I listen to His still, small voice, He will sustain me, tell me which wave to ride and when to dive deep.

And also, that if I’m willing to step out on faith, I’ll get to experience the thrill of walking on water.


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There are a lot of amazing things about living in Mexico. Since we arrived, Rachel and I have met some of the kindest, most selfless people I’ve ever known. We’ve eaten amazing food, learned the language (ish), and enjoyed the peace that comes with a slower pace of life. But living the expatriate life is not without it’s challenges, and today is no exception.

In fact, the biggest challenge we’ve faced since living here has nothing to do with Mexico, and has everything to do with the United States. Rachel and I live about thirty miles from the US/Mexico border crossing, and we cross it pretty frequently. There are certain things that we just can’t do in Mexico; for instance, buy dog food, go to Trader Joes, drink Starbucks and withdraw from an ATM that dispenses dollars, rather than pesos (dollars are preferred in this part of Mexico). So every week or two, we plan a day to drive up to San Diego and do our chores.

Crossing the border into the States is completely and utterly unpredictable. It can take us anywhere from five minutes to five hours to drive through the customs and border patrol inspection stations. We’ve tried to logically deduce when there will be the least amount of back up based on commuter schedules, weather and holidays; but it’s of no use. So we always plan about three hours of “wiggle room” into our schedule, just to be safe.

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So today, Rachel and I are making our way to the border, and I’m praying for smooth sailing. Unfortunately, we pull up into the line, and it’s bad… really bad. We’ve learned to gauge our wait times based on our distance to the checkpoint – a quarter mile = 1 hour, a half mile = 2 hours, more than a half mile = at least 3 hours.   And today, we’re in the longest line I’ve ever seen.

And the longer the line, the more vendors there are on the street. There are hundreds of people selling anything you could ever want: burritos, blankets, NFL jerseys, statues of the Virgin Mary, tostilocos (pic below), jewelry and iPhone cases, to name a few.

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“I guess this wasn’t the best day to bring the dogs with us!” I say jokingly to Rachel. We usually leave the pups at home, but today we have a ton of errands to run, so the they are coming along for the ride. This is their first time crossing the border back into the States, and I’m a little nervous that all of the vendors surrounding our car are going to freak them out.

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“Oh my gosh, look at Nimitz’s face!” Rachel exclaims as she snaps a photo of him. He’s seen the vendors and is giving his best “What the hell is this?” look.

 

“Alright, I guess we just have to settle in and wait.” I lament. We’ve crossed the border enough to know that there’s no use in getting frustrated, especially not this early in the game.

But today, the wait is taking longer than I expected. I look at the clock and realize we’ve been sitting here for well over two hours, and we’re still at least a half-mile away from the inspection station.

“Ugh… This is the worst!” I exclaim and put my head on the steering wheel.

“I know,” Rachel says, “and now I have to pee.” This isn’t good. The border crossing is basically a line of cars on a highway with some pop-up vendor stands along the side. Finding a restroom, let alone a clean one, could prove to be tricky. “I’m going to get out and see if any of these vendors have a bathroom.”

“Ok,” I say, “I’ll be here!”

I watch Rachel walk over to one of the vendors, and it seems like she’s having some luck; until I see her turn around and walk back to the car.

“What happened?” I say.

“They wanted 75 pesos for the bathroom! Can you believe that? That’s like 5 dollars, and I am not paying 5 bucks to use the bathroom.”

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She gets back in the car and we continue to wait, but word of Rachel’s full bladder must have traveled quickly, because a few seconds later, a woman approaches our car window and lets us know that there’s another restroom that only costs a dollar. Armed with this information, she grabs a dollar and walks back over to the bathroom lady. I see her go inside and when she gets back to the car she tells me that on her second visit the woman changed the amount from 75 pesos to 75 cents. I’d like to think this was a simple miscommunication, but I think we know better.

We sit in silence for a few moments, looking around at the miserable line, before I turn to Rachel and say, “Well, it’s clear that we’re going to be stuck in this line for the rest of our lives, so we should at least eat something!”

I see a woman walking down the street selling churros and I flag her down. If you haven’t had churros, they’re these deliciously amazing strips of dough, deep-fried and then covered in sugar. “Yes, I think this is what we need!”

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We sit in the car and start munching on our churros, when suddenly, the entire mood in the car shifts. We start laughing and joking about the reality of our lives in Mexico. Then, I pull up to another vendor and ask for a bottle of water, I jokingly turn to Rachel and say “I wish I was ordering tequila instead of water!”

She gives me a mischievous look and says, “maybe we can order tequila… this is Mexico after all!” She rolls down her window and asks a woman if she has tequila. The woman replies with a laugh and says, “No!, Yo no tengo tequila!” but when she sees the disappointed looks on our faces she breaks into perfect English and says, “but if you seriously want tequila, I’ll get someone to bring it to you.”

We laugh and decide that taking a tequila shot from a random stranger on the street is probably a good way to get kidnapped, so we decline. But then Rachel turns to me and says, “Wait! I have an open bottle of two-buck chuck in the backseat from last night’s fiesta!” We have a quick discussion about the legality of drinking a bit of wine while in the car, and decide that since we’re only moving about 15 feet every 20 minutes, a small sip will probably be ok.  We start rifling through the glove box and find a couple of pre-wrapped glasses that we undoubtedly snagged from a hotel during our road trip. We each pour a splash of wine, grab a churro and toast to our new life.

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We spend the next hour talking, laughing and doing a lot of people watching. We even discuss the logistics of starting a flash mob at the border, and wonder if we would end up on YouTube, or in jail.   But finally, after three and a half hours, it’s our turn at the inspection station. At this point, the two-buck chuck and the churros have worn off. But the way we turned something miserable into something enjoyable will stick with me. It’s a skill we’ll need a lot over the next year as we travel the globe.

So as we pull through the inspection station and into San Diego, I can’t help but think – of all the ways I imagined starting 2016, this wasn’t one of them. I never thought I’d be living as an expat, and preparing for a journey around the world. But today, even with my four-hour commute, this is the only place I want to be.

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It’s our new favorite place in Mexico. Not just because of the cozy, quaint interior or friendly staff, but because they serve the best espresso we’ve ever had.

Passione Caffé is on our way home from yoga and since caffeine is normally required to revive us from that work out, we’ve been frequenting it a lot lately.

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There’s something about taking the time to sit at a table and order a cup of coffee that comes in a real china cup. About savoring each sip, being present and having meaningful conversation with another person.

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Sharing a house and a car, Natalie and I spend just about every waking moment together, but in this place we are free from distractions and our conversation often goes deep. To the desires of our heart – our hopes to one day be remarried and have kids. To the work God has done and is doing in our lives – how much we’ve grown over the last year and also how much more refining we need. To where we think He is leading and where we think we’ll end up – will we come back to Virginia? Mexico? Some other part of the world?

At this rightly named “Caffé” we’re drinking espresso, but I like to think we’re sipping on a little cup of “passion.” We share our hopes and dreams and the combination of conversation and coffee further whets our appetite for the adventure God has in store for us, albeit largely unknown.

Yesterday as we sipped, we reflected on the group of gals we had just met. They came down from San Diego to surf for a few days and stopped in to take a yoga class.

Always interested in meeting new people (especially fellow 30-somethings since there aren’t many of us here), Natalie and I struck up a conversation with some of these ladies after class.

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After the usual niceties, we faced the inevitable questions about what we do for a living and how we came to live in Mexico. Three months into this adventure, we’ve honed a solid, 30-second explanation. It goes something like this:

“We both went through a divorce in the last 18 months. We own our own business, don’t have kids and have enough money saved up after working for a decade to take a year off. So, we cashed out our retirement funds, packed up and left nearly everything behind in Virginia, drove across the country and are living here in Baja California for three months. The plan is to see 7 continents over the next 8 months or so.”

This usually elicits overwhelmingly enthusiastic approval or confessions of jealousy from whoever we are talking to. But, if it doesn’t and we sense the person is not totally on board with our plan we then add:

“We’re young, single and we realized that we only have a short window of time to do this – especially if we end up getting married and having kids. So, why not now? Worst case scenario, we have the most amazing time seeing the world and when we get back, we settle down, get jobs and make more money.”

This usually does the trick; as even the most sensible and risk-averse person has a hard time disagreeing with this logic.

In the case of these San Diego surfer girls, we were far from crazy. Word must have traveled among the group in a matter of minutes because after we said goodbye and began to drive away, they waved at us to roll down the window.

“You girls are an inspiration!” they shouted enthusiastically.

It felt good to hear that. I mean, who doesn’t want the affirmation and approval of others? Especially when you’re a recovering type-A, East coast performance addict and it’s coming from a bunch of chilled-out Californians. But 20 minutes later at Passione Caffé I felt differently.

As Natalie and I pontificated over coffee it all became so clear. This trip is much more than two divorced girls trading in their broken hearts and marriages for a trip around the world. It’s more than impressing people with our courage to step out of our comfort zones and take risks. It’s more than the cool places we will see along the way. That may be part of it, but what this trip is really about is following God. Being obedient to where He is calling us. So that in the end, HIS purpose is accomplished and HE gets the glory – not us.

Glory

“While our plan is to see 7 continents, that may not be where God leads us,” I tell Natalie. “The truth is that we really don’t have a clue as to where we’ll be or what our lives will look like in 6 months to a year.” She nods in agreement. And then the irony of it all occurs to me and I laugh out loud.

“What’s so funny?” she asks.

“As a coach, the FIRST question I ask my clients to clearly define is, “What do you want your life to be like in 6 to 12 months,” I say. “And here I am and I don’t have a clue how to answer that question!”

We laugh some more but what then occurs to me is that perhaps this is the wrong question to ask. In a society where we are told to make our destiny and do what makes us happy, and at a time when we are encouraged to set goals for the new year, maybe the question isn’t “Where do I want to be in the next 6-12 months.” It’s “Where does God want me to be?”

I know that in order to get that answer I have to slow down. I have to intentionally seek God and silence the distractions around me. And if I want to actually do what God wants me to do and be who He wants me to be, I have to sacrifice and surrender my own will.

That’s much easier said than done. But in the end, God’s will is the absolute best thing.

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So, for 2016, I’m not going to set a bunch of goals about what I think I should be accomplishing. Instead, I’m going to focus on just one goal – uniformity with God’s will.

Today, as I sip another espresso at Passione Caffé, I feel a newfound passion. A new clarity about my purpose. And a new hope that if I’m truly conformed to the will of God, this “Great Enlivening” may look very different from what I originally thought or what we might plan, but it will be infinitely better.


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The Merging of Two Worlds

I’ve never actually made gumbo, which as an LSU graduate and the daughter of two Louisiana-born natives is embarrassing to admit and liable to have my “Cajun card” in question.

That’s why when my parents came to visit, I figured it was the perfect time to learn. Not to mention a great opportunity to introduce a little Cajun culture to some of our new friends in Mexico.

While Natalie and I have met some wonderful people here, two in particular have been unbelievable blessings to us; Claudio, our neighbor, and Susana, our Spanish teacher.

Meet Claudio.

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An Italian-born Frenchman, Claudio speaks 5 languages, and spends his weekends riding his Harley motorcycle with Solo Angeles (formally Hells Angels of Tijuana.)

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Despite the seemingly tough exterior, he’s a big softy at heart with a flair for the finer things in life. He makes incredible pasta dishes, ice cream sundaes and cappuccino (which he drinks each morning with his chocolate croissant), and has taken us under his wing to ensure we don’t starve, get into too much trouble and also, that we have the complete Baja California experience.

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A father-figure of sorts, he is a 15 year-old boy in a 67-year-old body and just as funny and entertaining as he is generous. He has served as our tour-guide, chauffeur (making several trips with us to the border, the San Diego airport and multiple stores around town) and also our stand-in dog sitter. Nimitz and Mugsy – especially Mugsy – adore him. (Probably because he feeds them pasta too!) 🙂

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He keeps threatening that it’s time for us to leave the nest and “fly on our own” but we think he secretly enjoys having two stand-in daughters to look after. At least we hope he does!

Meet Susana.

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A blonde German born in Mexico, Susana speaks 4 languages (yes, Natalie and I clearly need to up our language skills) and is as sweet as a sugar cookie. She gave us a hefty discount on our lessons so that we could afford to see her 3 times a week. An excellent Spanish instructor, she not only teaches us the language but also expertly educates us on pronunciation and Mexican culture so that we don’t embarrass ourselves too badly while here.

She and her husband, Jose, a gregarious local with an infectious laugh, treated us to a delicious dinner last week at their favorite restaurant. They have also escorted us to another border crossing, are a wealth of information about the local area and continually offer to help us in any way they can.

Needless to say, these folks have truly helped us over the last 6 weeks and while I know a dinner party isn’t much, I figured it would be a small way to say thanks.

After picking up my parents from the San Diego airport, we did a grocery store run to get all the necessary ingredients to make this most authentic Louisiana dish: Okra, chicken, sausage, shrimp, green peppers and onions, celery, rice, and also oil and flour for the roux (which starts the whole process and largely determines the flavor).

“You don’t have vegetable oil and flour?” my Dad asks when he sees them in my cart.  “Only olive oil,” I answer without hesitation. How do I explain to him that my cooking these days comes down to scrambling eggs, stir-frying veggies, throwing a frozen pizza in the oven or microwaving a bag of popcorn?

“Do you even have Tony’s?” he asks with a look of serious concern. “Of course I do,” I respond. (Tony Chachere’s cajun seasoning is a household staple for all Louisianians).  “I may not know how to cook Gumbo, but I haven’t forgotten my roots,” I reassure him.

“Ok, good.  Well we brought the file seasoning (ground sassafras leaves) from home,” he tells me.

Getting all the ingredients in San Diego cost a small fortune, but apart from a tiny bit of crab boil we couldn’t find, we had everything we needed. My mom chopped all the veggies and my Dad supervised with making the roux and coaching me on how to put it all together.

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It was a lot more labor intensive than I imagined, but after several hours, I officially made my first gumbo!

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Now, while my name may be Rachel, I’ve never pretended my last name is Ray. But there was a time in my life when cooking and hosting get-togethers was a regular occurrence. When I tried new recipes looking for the ones that would “wow” my guests.  When I loved pulling out my white china, setting placemats, arranging napkins with rings and silverware on a beautiful table that could easily seat 10.

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Before I’d bring the hot dishes to the server, I’d invite guests to sip wine and sample appetizers on our two-piece wine bar. The music and lighting would be soft. The temperature just right. And if I did my job as a hostess correctly, no one had to ask me for anything throughout the course of the night and no one left without a fully belly, a huge hug and the warm feeling of being loved inside.

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But all of that changed a few years ago.

Between a divorce, 4 moves and paring down from a 4-bedroom house to a single bedroom worth of stuff, I didn’t have the space nor the energy to entertain. But over the last few months I’ve realized how much I missed opening my home and sharing a meal with others. So, I vowed that when I got settled into our place in Mexico (and actually knew some people to invite), I’d start doing so again.

Of course, I don’t have any fine china here. Forget about a wine bar or server. I don’t even have 6 place settings that match! Our rustic wooden table only seats 6, so we squeezed in a folding chair I found stashed in my closet and asked Claudio to bring over two more wine glass so we would have enough. (I already had to borrow a pot from him to cook the gumbo!)

The plan was to make this incredibly yummy baked cheese appetizer but apparently Mexicans don’t eat havarti cheese or crescent rolls since I couldn’t find them anywhere. So, we we settled for cheese, crackers and apples which I displayed on the only available space in our tiny kitchen – the side of the counter.

I insisted on fixing everyone’s plate, not only because I was born and bred to embrace Southern hospitality, but also because once everyone was seated around the table, there wouldn’t be enough room for anyone to get up again.

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Finally, we were all gathered snuggly around the table. There was a hodgepodge of dishes and glasses and a random assortment of silverware placed neatly on our make-shift paper-towel napkins.

It wasn’t fancy or impressive, but as I asked everyone to bow their head so I could pray, I was thankful. Thankful for each person. Thankful for the blessing of each life and the fact that I know mine is richer for having the privilege of sharing it with these people. And that’s exactly what I said.

As we ate, drank, shared stories and laughed, I realized it was the merging of two worlds – my upbringing and family life back home and the new community of friends I’ve made here. And that despite the differences in ages, cultures, language and religion, sitting around that table we were a family of sorts.

Considering everyone wanted seconds, I think the gumbo was a hit. And based on the feedback from Claudio and Susana the next day, they did indeed leave with full stomachs and full hearts. My only regret is that I was so caught up enjoying the evening that I forgot to take pictures!

Oh well. I know the memory of that night will not soon fade. Nor will my relationships with Claudio, Susana and Jose. And even though they were only here for 5 days, I know my Mom and Dad feel the same way.

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This Christmas day I’ll be sitting at my parent’s large dinning room table with perfectly matching place settings, a gorgeous centerpiece and an exquisite meal that will rival anything from a 5-star restaurant. And while that will be wonderful, what I am most looking forward to are the people who will be around me; my family. These are the people who have been with me through countless ups and downs, know all of my failings and continue to love and support me unconditionally despite them all. Even when I do crazy things like cash out my retirement to spend a year traveling the world.

What I’ve come to understand after selling, packing up and leaving nearly everything I own behind is that the stuff in life doesn’t really matter, the people do.

Oh sure, there’s nothing wrong with nice things and I can certainly appreciate ambience and impressive decor in the moment.  But what ultimately makes my life rich and beautiful are the people I spend it with. The people who laugh with me and cry with me.  The people who disagree with me and love me enough to challenge me. And the people who will always be in my heart, even if we are thousands of miles apart.

The only real downside to this whole “Enlivening Adventure” is that I probably won’t get to see my family much over the next year as Natalie and I galavant across the globe, which is why I’m going to cherish every moment I have with them this Christmas.

The good news is that through people like Claudio and Susana, God has shown me that family can have a broader definition.  And that if I’m willing to embrace those He divinely connects me with (and maybe even cook another Cajun meal or two), I’ll have family wherever I go.

 

 

 

 

Finding the Soft Edge

“Just a little bit farther…” Hannah says as she grabs my foot and places it in my hand. I feel all of my muscles stretching deeply from my shoulder through my hip; and my heart starts to pound. I’m not so sure that my body was meant to bend this way. My peripheral vision is getting a little sparkly, so I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am thankful for this yoga class.   Although as I hold this pose, I’m struggling to remember why…

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Rachel and I met Hannah the week that we arrived in Mexico. She’s a 30-something, former gymnast with the flexibility of Gumby who owns a yoga studio nearby. Yoga is something I’ve literally never been interested in. I always assumed that it was more breathing and drum circles than real exercise. So when I met Hannah, I had zero desire to take her class.

But when she invited us to a class at a winery in the beautiful Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley), followed by a wine tasting and five course meal, how could I say no? The Valle de Guadalupe is the Mexican version of Napa Valley, and it’s about forty-five minutes from our house.

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Yoga in the Vineyard

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The reward for doing Yoga in the Vineyard…

The outdoor setting was serene and peaceful, so I went into the class expecting it to be easy. After all, I’m the kind of girl who appreciates a tough workout – running, volleyball, swimming – as long as I end up sweaty and exhausted, count me in! But Hannah’s class was challenging… to put it mildly. In fact, I spent the entire hour on the verge of collapse.

Now, I think I’m in pretty good shape, so the fact that I struggled so much during that first class lit a fire of determination and stubbornness inside me. I decided to master this yoga business, even if it’s the last thing I do in Mexico!

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So after several weeks of downward dogs, bound pigeons and cow faced poses, I can safely say that Rachel and I are getting… better! And we definitely have a new appreciation for yoga.

“Now breathe, and press your hips toward the sky…” Hannah says as she transitions us into another challenging pose. As I move into position, I hear someone tip over behind me. I breathe a sigh of relief, because although I know that Yoga isn’t a competition, I’m pretty happy I’m still standing.

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“And now take a soft child’s pose…” Hannah says in her calming tone.

“Hallelujah,” I think to myself, “I thought I was going to pass out in that last position.”

I lay on the mat and as my breath starts to come back to me, so does my appreciation for this class. My mind drifts to the Thanksgiving dinner that Rachel and I had a couple weeks ago. It was completely atypical and not very American. For the first time in years I wasn’t surrounded by friends and family, and I didn’t spend the whole day cooking. In fact, it was just Rachel and I, and we went out to eat at a local steakhouse.   We listened to mariachi music and ate tortillas soaked in butter. Instead of pumpkin pie, we finished the evening with a slice of dulce de leche cake. It was fantastic.

 

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At thanksgiving we talked about all of the things we’re thankful for in this new season of life – this amazing adventure, the support of friends and family, the beautiful home we’re staying in, two sweet dogs, and yes, this yoga class. Aside from giving us an amazing workout four days a week, it’s a wonderful new experience that pushed us out of our comfort zone.

Hannah snaps me back to reality when she says it’s time for another challenging pose. As we get into position, she encourages us to find the “soft edge” in our exercise. She describes this edge as a place just beyond comfort. It’s a place where we’re stretched beyond our norm and forced to grow. While I know she’s talking about our muscles, I can’t help but think that maybe the “soft edge” applies to everything in this life.

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I contemplate this thought as Hannah finally puts us into the Shavasana (aka- the corpse pose), signaling the end of the practice. In this pose, you lay on your back, close your eyes, and rest. It’s simple but powerful, and it’s basically the best time of the day.

As I lay here on the floor, I think through the concept of the soft edge and what it represents – growth, determination, and continual learning. I like that idea. What if I shifted my perspective and pushed myself to the soft edge in every facet of my life, like self-awareness, faith, and relationships? I’m not entirely sure what that would look like, but maybe that’s what this adventure is all about: discovering the soft edges in life that will gently push me to grow into the beautiful person God designed.

In Mexico, I’m an Amazon

At 5’7” I’m slightly above the average height of women in America. In Mexico, I’m practically an amazon. A white giant among a dark-skinned population of people who are well…for the most part, fairly petite.

This is especially obvious to me when I’m at the gym. And by gym, I mean a single room that is no more than 20 feet wide by 30 feet long. There are no weights or machines. Just a wall of mirrors, 20 or so handmade wooden steps piled in the corner and a small counter in the back with a fridge and blender where you can purchase a sports drink of sorts (I’ve never tried one though it seems most of the people there consume one every day).

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Natalie noticed a sign for Zumba the second day we were in Mexico, and since I’m mildly obsessed with dancing, I had to check it out. Turns out that Zumba is really a high-paced step aerobics class, but it’s the only workout facility within 25 minutes and at $1 a class, it’s hard to beat the price.

An early bird by nature, I decided to go to the 6:30 a.m. class hoping to get a good workout and “blend in.” Being nearly a head taller than everyone else made that a little challenging, not to mention my inability to understand Spanish and the rapid step changes that seemed to come every 12 -15 seconds.

My concern was less about looking like an idiot and more about accidentally kicking the woman behind me or smacking the girl next to me in the face with my flailing arm. Long limbs served me well as a basketball player, but in a Mexican aerobic class they are potentially deadly weapons. Especially here. Fire codes either don’t exist or are irrelevant. You pay and you get to participate in class….even if that means squeezing 20 people in a room that does not comfortably hold more than 10. And even then it’s tight.

Now, a few weeks and a dozen classes later, I’m a regular. The “Senoras” greet me with a bright “Buenos dias” when I arrive and then promptly point to which wooden step I’m “assigned to.” Apparently I’m not the only once concerned about controlling my lengthy limbs. And yet, when I inadvertently make contact with someone around me – which usually happens at least once a class – they just smile when I say “perdon” and shrug it off. They don’t expect me to be any different than I am.

And yet, for most of my life I tried to do exactly that. To be different; to modify who I was in order to conform to societal pressure, garner the approval of others, or meet some unhealthy or unrealistic standard. And when I couldn’t do that, I would hide what I didn’t like, or apologize for it. Talk about being exhausting and a recipe for feeling perpetually inadequate!

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Today I know better. That while far from perfect, I’m made in the image of the most-high God. And that instead of trying to be someone different, what I really need to learn is how to be authentically me.

Authenticity was the theme of the talk I gave last month at the “Women on the Way” Catholic Women’s conference in Richmond, Virginia, and something God has been teaching me a lot about recently.

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On the surface, it sounds really simple. “Just be yourself!” But being authentic requires courage, vulnerability and sometimes exposes the deepest, most flawed and unredeemed parts of who we are. That’s not easy or comfortable.

And yet, authenticity is also beautiful, captivating and the thing that allows us to connect most deeply with other people.

As I stood in front of 400 women that Saturday, I was real. Real about my struggles with an eating disorder in college, my failed marriage, the highs and lows of the last several years and also the incredible ways God has and continues to work in my life.

After the talk I met dozens of women who thanked me, cried as they relayed their personal trials or told me how inspired they were by what I shared. Turns out authenticity was exactly what they wanted…what they needed. And I know the same is true for me – that the more authentically I live, the more fulfilling, enjoyable and God-honoring my life is.

I think about this as I observe the world around me; the birds in the sky, fish in the sea, and animals and plants that aren’t trying to be anything but what God made them to be. And there is simplicity and joy in that! Just look at Mugsy and Nimits at the beach chasing each other and running around being dogs.

They had the time of their life and Natalie and I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing as we watched them.

I imagine that when we are authentic God does the same. That He delights in us being fully the person He created us to be. That He marvels at the diversity of His creation and loves when we embrace the unique way He made each one of us.

This morning as I finish up a jog with my new running partner, Blanca, a forty-something, 4’9 single mom and tortilla maker, I am well aware of that diversity. She doesn’t have a car, speaks less English than I do Spanish (which makes our conversations quite entertaining and reliant on hand gestures) and yet, we meet every morning at 5:45 a.m. to do a short run before aerobics.

After our jog she hops in my car and I drive us to class. We have become fast friends and after we get our wooden steps, she stands next to me. I look down and can’t help but chuckle. My size 10.5 shoe looks like a ski compared to her tiny sneaker.

Dear God, don’t let me step on her today, I think to myself.

Blanca looks at me curiously but since I can’t explain that in Spanish, I simply put my foot next to hers and point.

feet

We both laugh and even more so when I put my arm around her shoulders and her head rests easily on mine. We giggle at our reflection in the mirror and the stark difference in our size and appearance causes a few other women around us to notice and do the same.

friend

I imagine that I’ll meet a lot more “Blanca’s” over the course of my world travels and there will be plenty of times when I am clearly “different” than those around me. My prayer is that I will be authentically me in each moment. That I will celebrate their uniqueness just as I do my own, embracing every bit of who God made me to be.